Unexplained ‘excess’ deaths in care homes almost as high as confirmed coronavirus victims, data shows

Earlier this week, The Telegraph reported that Age UK had warned that stress and anxiety caused by the coronavirus lockdown was fuelling cases of malnutrition among Britain’s elderly.

The charity said the “excess” deaths in care homes could potentially be attributed to extra stress. 

Researchers said the key reasons for “excess” deaths among older people in care homes would be under-diagnosed Covid-19 deaths (not recognised because of a lack of testing, symptoms showing differently in very old/frail people or lack of access to healthcare) and deaths from other causes because of a lack of access to healthcare.

These “excess” deaths were recorded during a period when doctors were unable to visit and care homes were discouraged from sending residents to hospital. 

The figures come after the Equality and Human Rights Commission announced that it was considering whether human rights laws were breached by hospitals discharging older patients into care homes.

The ONS data showed that the provisional number of deaths of care home residents in England and Wales from December 28 to May 1 was 73,180 – 23,136 more than in the same period last year.

Of the 12,526 deaths of care home residents linked to coronavirus, 11,371 were classified as confirmed cases and 1,155 as suspected by a certifying doctor, usually because a test was not undertaken. 

The ONS said 72.2 per cent of deaths linked to Covid-19 were in care homes and, in 27.5 per cent of cases, the resident had died in hospital.

It added: “At the beginning of the coronavirus pandemic, more deaths involving Covid-19 among care home residents occurred within the hospital setting. 

“However, deaths within care homes increased more rapidly, and deaths within care homes became more prevalent from the start of April 2020.”

Caroline Abrahams, the charity director at Age UK, said:”These new authoritative figures provide the most detailed view to date about what’s been going on in care homes and home care, and they tell a pretty alarming story. 

“It’s not just the many deaths of older people directly attributed to the virus that cause us concern, but also the spike in deaths accounted for by other things. 

“It is reasonable to suppose that some of these unexpected non-Covid 19 deaths were in fact due to the virus, but without any test having been carried out, and others to older people with different serious health conditions not getting the treatment they needed and would have received in more normal times.

“Behind these statistics there are real older people whose lives were tragically cut short, and families and friends left to carry on knowing that, in other circumstances, their loved ones may have survived. We should also be conscious of the impact on care staff of experiencing so much loss in such a short space of time. They too will carry the wounds, some of them forever.

“For now the priority has to be to do everything possible to protect older people in receipt of care, and save their lives. It is clear that problems remain in accessing enough PPE [personal protective equipment] and tests, and in the last seven days a further 400 care homes reported a Covid-19 outbreak, showing we are still very much in the midst of the crisis. 

“When it is all over, serious questions will need to be asked about how such a catastrophe was able to come about. We must make sure it can never happen again.”

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